"I am not happy about this," my employer said. She lit a cigarette. "Are you sure I can't get out of it?"
"Positive. Plus, as we know, it's for the greater good."
She made a face. Of course, I was fulfilling my proper role in this conversation, reminding her why she had to take up this potentially unrewarding case. But that didn't improve her mood.
She drew deeply on her cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke through her nose, then she leaned back in her desk chair and regarded me.
"There is no point," she said sternly, "in gazing at me with those bedroom eyes, mister. I plan on griping for several more minutes at least."
I was indeed in bed, in my pajamas, but I had been reading a newspaper, and I had not been gazing at her, with or without amorous intent. I folded my newspaper and put it down, prepared to listen to her griping.
Ron looked around from her desk, frowning as she always did when she thought she detected an outbreak of flirtation in the room. Reassured by my bland expression, she turned back to her homework.
"The problems," my employer said, "with missing-person cases are several. For one thing, they often involve travel, usually fruitless travel. They tend to take a long time to solve. And, most unfortunately, the missing person sometimes turns out to be dead. If you're trying to find a murderer, and the murderer is dead, that still counts as a success. When you're asked to find a missing person, the unspoken condition is usually that they want you to locate the person alive."
"But what if he's already dead?" Ron asked over her shoulder.
"Exactly my point."
"In this case," I said, "I think we're fervently hoping he's alive."
"And no amount of fervent hoping is going to bring him back if he's already dead."
"Needless to say, but if he is (as we fervently hope) alive, moving quickly might help keep him that way."
My employer smiled. "Since I'm the one who's fully dressed, and you're en deshabille, I assume you're not proposing we rush out willy-nilly at this late hour."
"No, but we should meet with them in the morning. As planned. At Stu's office."
She had said "willy-nilly" for Ron's benefit, and we could hear her snort a laugh as she worked on her homework. The word always tickled her for some reason.
"Is Doc going with us?" my employer asked.
I shook my head. "No, she decided that would make it too official. Which would make it worse if..." I caught her expression. "If success takes a while to achieve. Which, as you point out, is often the case."
"Or if he's dead," Ron added without turning around.
"Or that," I agreed. "We're doing them a favor, as a diplomatic courtesy. In the car, I'm afraid we will have to be satisfied with the scintillating wit of Miss Susan Tumolo."
"You're going with Miss T?" Ron demanded. "What's she got to do with it?"
"She brought the case to us," my employer explained.
Ron shook her head. "That's three cases she's been in the middle of, isn't it?" She turned back to her homework. "Pretty suspicious, if you ask me. I think it might be about time to investigate her." She shrugged. "Just a suggestion."